Exclusive: Palace 'bent' rules to let princess marry in private

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THE Royal Family has 'bent' the law in an attempt to keep secret its plans for Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, to re-marry.

The wedding - to Commander Tim Laurence of the Royal Navy - is planned to take place on Saturday in the Church of Scotland at Crathie on Deeside, the traditional place of worship for the Royal Family when they stay at Balmoral. Last night, after an approach from the Independent on Sunday, Buckingham Palace issued a press statement confirming for the first time that the Princess and Captain Laurance intended to marry but it refused to specify the date or place. A Church of England spokesman later confirmed the marriage would be at Crathie.

Well-placed sources in Scotland say that the rules on public notification of marriages were 'bent' in an attempt to allow bride and bridegroom to keep their marriage private.

These sources say that the marriage notice exists but that it has not been forwarded to the local registrar in Ballater, near Crathie. Under Scots law, any marriage - with either civil or religious ceremony - needs to be notified to the registrar of the appropriate district at least 15 days in advance; a minimum of six weeks is required if the bride or groom has been married before. The law also states that the registrar must display the notice so that the public may inspect it. The requirement for banns to be read in church was abolished by the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977.

Yesterday Molly Croll, the Ballater registrar, said she had not received any notice of the princess's wedding and that 'it would be highly unusual and irregular for this procedure to be circumvented . . . it has to be 15 days' notice at least'. It is believed, however, that the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, has informally advised Scotland's Registrar-General that the law would not be broken if the notification was kept secret. Lord Mackay was formerly Scotland's principal criminal law officer, the Lord Advocate.

Scottish lawyers said last night that one section in the 1977 Act gave the Registar-General extraordinary powers to waive the rules. But they had not heard of the powers being used before and were far from certain that they applied in this case.

The Royal Family had apparently intended to keep the wedding plans secret for as long as possible, probably until after the ceremony. The immediate members of the Royal Family are due in Edinburgh on Friday, where the Queen will host a dinner on board the royal yacht Britannia, moored in the Firth of Forth, for political leaders attending the European Community summit. Balmoral is only a few hours' drive away. 'It was thought,' said a source in Scotland, 'that as everybody had a good reason to be in Scotland that weekend, the media could be given the slip.'

The Independent on Sunday learnt the date and place of the marriage last week. When we rang the Buckingham Palace press office last night, it declined to comment. But, within an hour, it issued a brief statement: 'Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal and Commander Laurence intend to get married. The wedding will be private.' The palace would not explain why notice of the marriage had not been posted.

It would have been difficult for the wedding to take place in England. The Princess Royal and her first husband, Captain Mark Phillips, were divorced earlier this year, after 18 years of marriage. The Church of England officially forbids the remarriage in church of people who have been divorced while the former spouse lives, and the Queen is its Supreme Governor.

The Church of Scotland, however, has no ban on remarriage in church, though its ministers are not required 'to solemnise a remarriage against their conscience'. They are also encouraged to 'consider whether there is any danger of scandal arising'.

The Princess Royal and Captain Phillips were legally separated in 1989. They have two children, Peter, aged 15, and Zara, aged 11.

The Princess, who is 42, met Commander Laurence, five years her junior, when he was selected as an equerry to the Queen in 1986. He was educated at Durham University and Dartmouth Naval College and seconded for a time as assistant navigating officer on the royal yacht. His relationship with the Princess Royal became known in April, 1989, when stolen letters were offered for sale to a national newspaper.

(Photographs omitted)